A veteran Republican lawmaker from a rural Acadiana district has received an onslaught of threats from national conservative activists for casting a decisive vote to kill a bill that would have banned health care for transgender children.
He has no regrets, Sen. Fred Mills said Thursday.
“I think these guys are just trying to practice medicine as legislators,” Mills, R-Parks, said in an interview, referring to lawmakers who support such legislation. “We’re going to legislate (a few dozen) people who need this medication? This is ridiculous. The statistics show this is not a problem.”
The backlash against Mills, a soft-spoken pharmacist and banker from the small town of Parks who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, came mostly from the social media accounts of prominent anti-transgender activists. The bill he voted down sought to bar access to puberty blockers, hormone treatments and gender-affirming surgeries for people younger than 18.
The result means that Louisiana, for now, is the only southeastern state where most forms of gender-affirming health care for transgender people remain legal. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and other nearby states have each passed laws restricting the services in recent years.
Since the vote, people have called and left threatening messages at pharmacies and banks Mills owns in his home district, he said Thursday. He said most of the calls were not from Louisiana numbers.
Mills, long one of the most-liked lawmakers at the Capitol, has also faced pushback from his GOP colleagues. Late Thursday, Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, filed amendment to one of Mills' legislative bills that would bar that bill from becoming law unless the ban on gender-affirming care Mills voted against also becomes law.
The bill, Senate Bill 66, is aimed at clarifying the state's telehealth laws.
"We would like the Senate to reconsider what they did yesterday," Seabaugh said of the Senate's vote to kill the ban.
The bill passed with Seabaugh's amendment without debate, which meant no fireworks, but it heads now to the Senate where Mills largely controls its fate and can reject the amendments. Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, handled the bill for Mills on the House floor and said he wanted to avoid a public fight on the floor in favor of returning the legislation to Mills' hands.
"Hopefully the process will get rid of some of the political hijinks some in the body wanted to play," he said.
Following the House's vote, Mills said it was too early to decide how he would handle the amendments.
The state Republican Party also lobbied the Senate to override the committee’s vote on the bill to “prohibit genital mutilation surgery on minor children in Louisiana,” according to a press release.
Moving the transgender bill to either floor would pose political risks as the Legislature rushes to pass a state budget before the session ends on June 8.
The backlash against Mills comes amid a nationwide push by some conservatives to restrict health care for transgender people. In Louisiana, the proposed health care ban filed by State Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, caused heartburn through two tense House hearings before landing in Mills’ committee, which voted to sideline it 5-4.
Mills was the only Republican on the committee to vote against the bill in that committee, joining the four Democrats on the panel.
In the hours after the Senate committee's vote, anti-trans activist Matt Walsh and others threatened on social media to marshal their conservative followers to hurt Mills at the polls. Andy Roth, head of the State Freedom Caucus Network, a far-right organization connected to the Congressional Freedom Caucus in Washington, D.C., accused Mills on Twitter of being a “RINO” — an acronym for GOP members considered by other conservatives to be “Republicans in name only.”
Greg Price, another Freedom Caucus staffer, shared Mills’ contact info on Twitter and urged people to tell him “how you feel about him single-handedly killing this bill to ban sex changes for kids.” Walsh accused Mills of siding with “the butchers and the groomers” and called his vote the “biggest mistake of his political career.”
Mills' response to the threats? "Bring it on,” Mills said. “I don’t care.”
He is term-limited out of his District 22 Senate seat and has no intention of running for political office again, Mills said.
A resolution recognizing Mills on the eve of his retirement and lauding him as a “true statesman” passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday. He seemed unfazed by the national attention while delivering a farewell speech replete with anecdotes about his years in public life.
Mills added in an interview that the transgender health care ban was simply in conflict with one of his core principles: a belief that the government shouldn’t interfere in patient-doctor relationships.
"I don't want to deny people accessibility to care their doctors might want them to have," he said.